Dan le Sac may not be the most recognisable character in music. In fact, he may not even be the most recognisable person from his Dan le Sac vs. Scroobious Pip day job. But he isn’t about being recognised and thankfully it seems much less of a concern to him than the finer details of his music.
As the man behind the music he gets to spend more of his time fussing over sounds and textures than social cohesion or the means of production. His means of his production are kept on racks in his studio and Pip can worry about any Marxist variations of the concept. Daniel Stephens is a music man and his real concerns are live re-production and quality. His new album, Space Between the Words, describes where his true efforts are concentrated and if read as a kind of demarcation of responsibilities between himself and his musical partner, clearly he weaves the canvas for his lyrical counterpart’s paint. Dan le Sac talks to State about its creation.
So Dan, how was it recording a solo album?
It feels good! Myself and Pip decided a while back to do some solo stuff before we started our third record and he seemed to have more than a plan for his so I just got busy writing and talking to people and went about it like that.
How did you go about finding collaborators?
It was actually quite easy, I used to be in a band with Fraser [Rowan] and we’re quite good mates so when I stared writing this he was one of the first people to come to mind. Aside from that I made a few phone calls and, actually B Dolan called me up as I’ve toured with him before and he basically forced his way on to the album. But as for the others, whenever we performed with people or I bumped into them, if I liked their music, one of the topics we’d talk about would always the possibility of working together. To be fair there was a couple of people – I won’t mention names – who I asked and unfortunately we couldn’t make the time to get it sorted. And there’s also the other side that whereby if they start making things really difficult I start to think forget it, this won’t work. And some just said no and went on to be shit, ha ha!
Shame on them! And what about writing tracks for other people’s vocals?
Well I start with the music, and with this album I gave people several tracks and waited to see what came back. Again, I gave B Dolan something like four tracks and they were written only for him because I absolutely love the sound of his voice. When they came back I’d start looking at beats and I’d go from there. With the recording process, I had to drag some of them to Reading to record; anybody that was in and around London anyway. A couple of them recorded at my house and some were just too far away to record together. Fraser lives in Scotland and rather than fly him down he just recorded it up there. And Merz lives in Switzerland and flying him over just wasn’t gonna happen so he recorded his track over there. I tried to get as many of them to my studio as possible though. But now you can have a track recorded and over to somebody on the far side of the world by lunchtime, get it back, mix it and discuss it and have it finished that day. And when I think of it, myself and Pip have never really recorded together either.
Yeah, with ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ and a one or two others we recorded together but the rest have always been at different times.
So recording this album wasn’t a whole lot different to writing with Pip then?
With Pip my role is different, you know? I have total control over my solo stuff but with Pip I don’t get involved with his writing at all. That’s his business. My work is the music and when he’s writing I don’t jump in saying things like ‘how about a song about ice-cream’ or any of that. I completely leave it to him. And he’s an extremely political guy and I’m happy to record the music and go from there. With Space Between the Words it taught me stuff about how I work so in that respect it’s really good. Myself and Pip work in a familiar way and the likelihood is that that’s never gonna change unless we work with other people so we’re learning new things about how we work and that will show when we work together again.
The album seems free of being just one genre, was that deliberate or more to do with using guest vocalists?
Yeah it was definitely a conscious thing, I write that way anyway. I didn’t want it to be like an Alicia Keys album where the drum sounds are the same right through it, and although that works well for her, it was never gonna work for me. But it’s harder to make the thing stick together when your not letting genre dictate and it’s far more interesting for me when most of my music is free from specific genres; it’s just that Pip was always the voice over it and he was the common theme that held it together. With Space Between the Words it went from being eclectic hip-hop to a big massive sound and thankfully it still holds together as effectively.
How did you make it hold?
There are one or two tracks that were left off and as good as they were, in the context of the album they just didn’t work and they had to go. I mean, at one point I had 19 tracks so I’m glad I was aggressive with it. It needed that.
You don’t make it easy for yourself, do you?
Ha, no. Well, at least when the time comes for another album I might have some material to work from with the songs I left off…no-one has to know, ha ha.
Did you ever consider making an album of remixes?
Well, with the remixing thing, I’ve always wanted to make an album of remixes but the problem is that most of them are already out there. If you have a look at my spotify page there’s a playlist of all my remixes and there are these sort of unofficial albums out there now. And rather than just use other people’s work I’d rather just do my own.
What I meant was remixing specifically written songs by your collaborator’s rather than music you had found, was that ever an option?
Well if I had have done it that way it would have been a lot bloody quicker. To have eleven pre-written tracks from my collaborators could have been an option alright. Actually, you’ve just given me an idea…
You can keep it. Do you think this album was a departure from the politically charged stuff you make with Pip?
Well the stuff with Pip is political because that’s the way he is. He has this aggressive lyrical style and that’s his route in some ways. And I love doing that, I love his way of delivering these messages but at the same time there is always time to be frivolous too. I think that’s what I wanted to do and even though there are dark tracks on here, such as ‘Memorial’ which is about death and ‘Caretaker’ is which about a wife killing her husband, there’s still room for tracks like ‘Good Time Gang War’ which is about a parties and getting messed up to the point of losing blood on the dance floor. It’s good to be able to do what you want sometimes and that’s what a solo album is meant to be.
Does that create the impetus to make more?
Yeah well I’m in no rush to make another solo album, I’ve gotten this one out of my system but with some of the collaborators were so good there may even be an album between myself and one of those. Even just production stuff rather than a solo album. I just love it as a job, you know? I don’t particularly earn more than I did working at HMV record store, but I’m a happier person, ha. The only risk is I’m going pale: I can go days without leaving the house when I’m working. And just after the album was finished I wanted a couple of weeks off and decided that rather than go anywhere I’d just buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. I was addicted, man. I probably still am. I played it over and over.
Sounds like the life of many students, Dan
That’s the problem with modern games; they are so in depth and complex you just lose so much time! Just look at Final Fantasy 7, must have lost weeks out of my life playing that!
Have you plans to leave the house long enough to tour this album?
Yeah I’ve just been on the phone with some people about that and we have a plan to tour the UK and Ireland and see what happens.
How will you do it, will you bring the album guests with you?
I don’t want it to be just me up there with these disembodied voices on stage with me. Basically, I have nine weeks to plan it and all really don’t want to be standing there with a laptop so I’ll definitely have musicians with me. I won’t have a drummer, though. I’ve spent so long on those beats and I just don’t know how well they’ll work with a live drummer. I just want to be able to take the songs longer, louder or whatever happens live. You can’t do that with a laptop to any real effect. But in saying that, if I turn up with just me and a guitar you’ll know my plan didn’t work.
Do you think you could get all of them?
There’s a couple that definitely can’t do it due to scheduling and what have you. Also there are a few of them who can cover other peoples tracks from the album and my voice is right in the mid-range thankfully so I can do some myself.
Space Between the Words is out now on Sunday Best